Archive for the 'Historical Fiction' Category



Nobody’s Princess by Esther Friesner

nobodysprincess

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mythology

# of Pages: 305

RAC Book: Yes

In this fictional account of the childhood of Helen of Troy, Helen grows up wanting to learn swordplay with her two older brothers and fighting with her twin sister, Clytemnestra. She is heir to the throne and in her sister’s eyes it seems like she gets away with everything. Helen does manage to get the same training her brothers have because their teacher believes her motives for wanting to defend herself are reasonable. When her sister is betrothed and asked to leave at the age of 14, Helen and her brothers accompany her so that she will feel safe. This begins a few crazy adventures for her and her brothers that include a boar hunt and visiting an oracle. The story is continued in Nobody’s Prize.

This retelling of Helen of Troy’s childhood puts a fun spin on a character that has been mainly known for starting the Trojan War. The author does a nice job of explaining why these characters worshiped the gods and why they had to provide valuable offerings in order to please them. Helen seems unaware of her beauty throughout a lot of this book, which makes her seem more driven to reach her goals in her own way. Her desire to hunt, use weapons, and even go on dangerous adventures endears her to readers. For those readers who like adventures and mythology this will be a winner.

Kipling’s Choice by Geert Spillebeen

Genre:  Historical fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of Pages:  150

RAC:  Yes

Award Winner:  Iowa Teen Award 2009-2010

This fiction story is based on the true events of the famous Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling’s son, John.  Rudyard had always wanted to serve his country in the armed forces and was disqualified due to physical limitations.  From a young age, he groomed John to want to be a soldier as well, but John had weak eyes.  Rudyard used all of his influence to get John into the army as an officer, which John appreciated.  When John goes to his first battle, however, he realizes that it is a little different than he imagined and he wishes he could just go home and play the rich son again.

The format of the story is interesting because it flashes from John in his first battle back to all the memories of him growing up.  As a child John loved to play with the expensive toys his father gave him, but he often played recklessly and Rudyard encouraged it as typical boy behavior.  In the flashbacks it becomes apparent how important it was to Rudyard for his son to fight for his country like he couldn’t.  He fails to see the possible dangers and never truly believes anything could possibly happen to his son.  Although this story is very interesting, it will be difficult to get young adults to read it.  Many young adults do not like to read historical fiction type topics, but students who like reading about war will enjoy this title.

The Entertainer and the Dybbuk by Sid Fleischman

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age Level: 15 and up

# of Pages: 180 p.

RAC Book: Yes

A dybbuk is a Jewish ghost or spirit. The story takes place shortly after WWII and follows an entertainer who travels around with a dummy and performs in different clubs. He is not terribly talented and many people complain about seeing his lips move. One night he returns home to find a ghost of a young boy in his closet. The boy claims to be a dybbuk who will not leave until he has finished what he came for. Despite the efforts of the man to ignore the dybbuk, he insists on inhabiting the body of the dummy which makes the entertainer’s show a great success. The man feels nervous, however, because he knows his success is directly linked to this dybbuk and he is worried that he will have to do things he does not want to do in order to please this spirit in the future.

Although the Holocaust is over in this story, the effects of it linger on in every character and location in the story. The dybbuk is a victim of the Holocaust and feels like he has some tasks to complete before he can relax in the afterlife. The book is not very long, but it is not for someone looking for a quick read because of the many serious issues that are discussed. Also, someone with a background of the Holocaust will get more out of it than someone who does not know much about this time period. This is a good story about Europe post WWII, which is a time most students probably have not read much about.

The Snows by Sharelle Byars Moranville

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 225 p.

RAC Book: Yes

The Snows follows four generations of the Snow family who live in Jefferson, Iowa. The four sections of the book focus on when one of the Snows was sixteen and the turmoil that year brought to the entire family. The first section takes place in 1931 as the Snows struggle through the depression. The second section takes place in 1942 when Cathy Snow gets unexpectedly pregnant and her family has to deal with a teen pregnancy during a time of low tolerance. The third section follows Jill in 1969 during a time of rebellion and protest over the Vietnam War. Finally, the last section connects the previous three sections together when Mona goes home for a family funeral in 2006 and reunites with many family members whom she has not seen much in her sixteen years.

The Iowa backdrop for this story will appeal to any Iowans because there are mentions of specific towns and places that any Iowan will know. The first two sections seem the most compelling as they introduce the family and their dynamic. The section in 1969 reveals some strong language in the protest for the war. The protest is not explored in depth enough for those readers who do not know a lot about this time. The final section is used as a way to pull the four parts together. All in all a nice read, but may be difficult to sell to young adults.

Tamar by Mal Peet

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 420 p.

RAC Book: Yes

Tamar is the spy name of a man who parachuted into occupied Holland during WWII for the Allies. He asks his son to name his daughter Tamar, but reveals very little about the time he spent as a spy. Years later his fifteen year old granddaughter, Tamar, finds a box full of information and clues left behind by her grandfather before he died. As she pieces together his mysterious past she is shocked to find out the truth about his actions during that difficult war time. She also begins to understand why her own father mysteriously left her when she was very young.

This Carnegie Medal winner uses different time periods to reveal this story. There are flashbacks to the war and what Tamar and his pal, Dart, are sent to do in Holland. It also shows Tamar’s granddaughter in present day trying to put the pieces together in order to discover who her grandfather truly was. The ending is a bit predictable, but interesting nonetheless. Students who like historical fiction may enjoy this, but it is a bit slow moving at times and takes longer than necessary to reach its conclusion.

Fire From the Rock by Sharon M. Draper

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 229 p.

RAC Book: Yes

Sylvia Patterson lives in Little Rock, Arkansas in the year 1957. The big issue in her town is the new order to integrate their schools. Her older brother, Reggie, wants to be one of the lucky chosen few but due to his short temper he is not selected. Sylvia, on the other hand, is a smart level headed girl who has been chosen for the list of students to get interviewed for the integration. The students who are selected to integrate are not allowed to attend any school functions or belong to any school clubs, but many feel it is still important since they are making huge steps for future generations. As Sylvia gets closer to the imminent first day of school several acts of violence and prejudice begin to convince her that maybe she should just return to her own school.

The pressures put on these students before they ever entered the white school in Little Rock are discussed and explained in a way that any student can understand how these students must have felt going into this situation. Sylvia and her family deal with many acts of injustice and violence in this town and still want to believe and hope for a better life in the future. The actual incidents at Little Rock during the integration are not discussed as much as the events leading up to it, but the story really accents what those students had to go through and the courage they felt to even approach that white school. Students studying this time period will get a broader perspective of these students than they could ever get in a history book.

Enter Three Witches by Caroline B. Cooney

Genre: Shakespeare retelling

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 281 p.

RAC Book: Yes

Lady Mary is living with Lord and Lady Macbeth until the war ends and she can officially marry her betrothed. Life is pretty good for Mary as she has money and land attached to her name, but things change dramatically when the king finds her father was actually fighting against him and is therefore executed as a traitor. Suddenly she has lost everything she ever had. Things only get worse when someone murders the current king and suddenly Mary is at the mercy of the very people who used to be her guardians: the Macbeths.

Enter Three Witches is a retelling of Shakespeare’s MacBeth in which a plot between a husband and wife to get everything they want starts to unravel once they have what they desired. In this story there are characters from all stations in life from the scullery maid to the nobles. There are many characters who find they have been deceived by someone they have trusted. Many also lose or gain status in mere moments as traitors are sought out and persecuted. This complicated tale of suspense, romance, revenge, and deceit remind all of us how complex and interesting Shakespeare’s stories were. This retelling also makes Shakespeare a bit more appealing to younger readers.

The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose by Mary Hooper

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Age Level: 13 and up

# of Pages:  333 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Eliza Rose is shocked when her stepmother throws her onto the street and tells her she is no longer welcome at the home she has always known.  She travels to London alone looking for her father who works as a carpenter.  In the meantime she falls upon some hard times trying to survive.  She experiences jail and many other horrors that the poor had to deal with during this time.  She ends up getting rescued by Nell Gwyn, a real person who was believed to be a mistress of Charles II.  Eliza must learn a lot about herself and her capabilities in order to find where she belongs.

The balance of actual people, events, and places with the fictional story make it seem as believable as possible.  Eliza’s story is interesting, if not a bit predictable.  The people she encounters and the situations they are in make the story really interesting and give an idea of what London was like in 1670 for everyone from the monarchy to the highwaymen.  The fates of many she meets are bleak and not everyone gets saved in those situations like Eliza does.  The ending seems quick, but is still an acceptable finish to this delightful story. Fans of historical fiction books will enjoy it.

Flying Boats and Spies: a Nick Grant Adventure by Jamie Dodson

 

Early Review

Genre: Historical Fiction/Adventure

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 240

RAC Book: Yes

Nick Grant is living in 1935 during a very difficult time in U.S. history. His father’s business has been so drastically hurt by the depression that he has had to leave town to look for work. Nick is sixteen and desperate to help his mother pay the mortgage. When he hears about a boat hiring men to help build Pan American Airways, a series of places across the Pacific for planes to use in order to cross the Pacific, he jumps at the chance and leaves without telling his mother. Of course, Nick doesn’t tell them his real age or they would never have hired him.

During his travels he experiences espionage, storms, and even a chance to fly with Pan Am pilots. He works harder than he could have ever imagined he could and enjoys every minute. The entire time he is running from an unknown enemy who seems to anticipate his every move. He fears telling anyone about the man following him for fear that he is being paranoid.

This adventure story is fun and packed with drama, suspense, and even historical knowledge. Real people and places make appearances in the book to help set the scene in a way that young readers will be able to see what it was like in the Pacific in 1935. Any adventure readers will enjoy the retro writing style, but boys especially will enjoy the adventure and will be able to identify with Nick Grant as he struggles through adolescence.

Blood Red Horse by K.M. Grant

Genre: Historical Fiction

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 277 p.

RAC Book: yes

Iowa Teen Award 2008

In the year 1185, when the book begins, in England there are two brothers and a little girl who all live together in a castle. The two brothers, Will and Gavin, quarrel a lot as Gavin always tries to belittle Will in front of others. Ellie lost her parents at a young age and came to live with them until she is old enough to marry. She and Will get along really well, even though it is understood that someday she will marry Gavin. When Will gets old enough he is sent to go pick out a big war horse, but he finds a red horse that he falls in love with. Even though everyone makes fun of him he works tirelessly to groom and train the red horse, Hosanna, until everyone becomes enchanted with him.

When Will and Gavin are summonsed with their father to go to the king in order to fight in the Crusades, they leave Ellie and a few others in charge of the castle. The war is much more difficult than either of the boys could have imagined and the tension between them is often fierce. Both begin to wonder if they will ever return home. Hosanna manages to keep Will hopeful in times of great sadness. Meanwhile, Ellie is having problems of her own back home.

The first in this trilogy moves at a leisurely pace despite the many things that happen in it. The brothers change and grow a lot on their journey and become very different men than they had previously planned on becoming. The war is also told from the eyes of the Muslims, which provides an interesting way to humanize the other side. The author makes it very clear what the motives for both sides are and why it is near impossible for either side to give up. Hosanna is the tie between everyone in the story. The red horse seems to inspire great things and loyalty where there previously was no hope. A good story for those who like reading about war and life during this time period.

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen

Genre: Romance/Historical Fiction

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 433 p.

RAC Book: Yes

This story takes place in Manhattan in 1899. Although, it takes place a long time ago it is still relevant to many issues students deal with today such as dating, popularity, clothes, money, scandals, and friendship.

Elizabeth Holland is a very beautiful girl who comes from an elite family. Her and her sister, Diana, rule the social circles of the time. Elizabeth surprises herself by falling in love with the stable boy. She comes to terms with this, but must choose between being with him or saving her family from ruin. Diana finds herself attracted to Henry Schoonmaker, which causes a problem because he is engaged to someone very close to her. Plus, another major player in the social circuit, Penelope, has set her sights on Henry and will do anything to get him.

This story takes the reader inside the social circuits of 1899 Manhattan and does not disappoint with twists and scandals throughout the story. There were some aspects that seemed a bit predictable and superfluous, however. For example, there were some characters that did not seem to have a purpose. Also, the ending and what actually happens to the characters is left somewhat open ended and it is unrealistic that everything works out perfectly. There could still be a lot of deception and trickery brewing before these characters reach the end of their story.  Readers who enjoy Gossip Girl will be fans of this book.

The Moon Riders by Theresa Tomlinson

Genre: Historical fiction/Mythology

Age Level: 14 and up

# of Pages: 389 p.

RAC Book: Yes

Myrina has been training to join the Moon Riders, a group of young maidens who dance sacred dances and wield weapons to defend their neighbors, for thirteen years. Her grandmother, mother, and sister have all traveled with this legendary group. Prior to leaving, Myrina meets Cassandra who is a young princess of Troy. Cassandra is special and can see into the future. She sees that her brother Paris will one day help to bring Troy to death and destruction and this thought troubles her deeply. She runs away to join the Moon Riders in order to better prepare for this catastrophe.

Once the Moon Riders decide to take Cassandra and help train her in their ways they all become involved in the battle against Troy. While the Greeks are trying to battle Troy they pillage any nearby communities, which is why the Moon Riders feel compelled to step in and help defend the lands they have traveled for generations.

This interesting and exciting story follows the people around the famous battle of Troy. Students who have some knowledge of this battle and have even read the Iliad will get more out of this story than students who do not know anything about it. The story is well-written and moves at a quick pace. Recommended for students who enjoy mytholgoy.

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy

Genre:  Historical fiction

Age Level:  12 and up

# of Pages:  227

RAC Book:  yes

This story, told in poetry form, follows one of the twelve children rescued from the Lodz Jewish ghetto during WWII.  The author is related to this woman who became one of the few children who managed to survive during a time when children were considered a nuisance and expendable.  It is important for students to hear these true stories of life in the ghetto and how she managed to survive such brutal attacks on her family and neighbors. 

One main reason why she survived the war was her father.  Her father was very astute, observant, and not afraid to try risky tactics.  His bravery saved his family and many others from a certain death and once the war was over he never spoke of it again.  Instead, he went on to live a normal life as if he had never done these heroic things to save his family. 

This story tells not only of what the ghettos were like during this time, but also of family, friendship, and being willing to stick up for yourself and what’s right even if it is difficult.  Any student who reads this will be able to get something out of it sheerly because they will respond to the fact that it is a true story.  Recommended.

Silent Echoes by Carla Jablonski

Genre: Mystery/Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Age Level:  12 and up

# of pages:  344

RAC Book:  Yes

Sixteen year old Lucy Phillips lives in Manhattan in the late 1800s.  Her father has trained her to be a medium and hold seances in order to make money.  One night during one of these fake seances, Lucy hears a real voice asking her for help.  The voice belongs to a girl named Lindsay who lives in present day Manhattan.  She lives with an alcoholic mother and an abusive stepfather and is having trouble coping.

Lindsay is not too eager to listen to the voices in her head, afraid that it will cause others to think she is crazy.  Lucy, on the other hand, can’t wait to reconnect with Lindsay so that she can support herself as a real medium and earn money by predicting events in the future.  Through their eventual friendship, Lucy does prosper while Lindsay’s situation worsens.  Lucy feels so bad about Lindsay’s problems that she devises  a way to help her from the 19th century.

Silent Echoes was a delightful story about two girls who could speak many generations apart from each other.  Both need the other’s help and are struggling with their current lives,  but they learn a lot about the times they live in as well as each other.  They begin to see how some girls in both settings simply do not have many chances to raise above their dire circumstances.  The book also speaks about how many rich people will do anything to stay above the poor, even if it is unethical.  Many issues are covered in this book, but the interesting and fast paced story is what many readers will enjoy.  Highly recommended.

Incantation by Alice Hoffman

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Multicultural Literature

Age Level:  14 and up

# of pages:  166

RAC Book:  Yes

Estrella is living in Spain in 1500.  During this time in Spain anyone who was Jewish or converted to Christianity has the possibility of being persecuted in court.  As some neighbors of Estrella’s are taken away and she hears the charges against them she comes to the realization that she too is Jewish, but her family pretended to be Christian in order to survive. 

Once Estrella learns she is really Jewish, her entire world comes crashing down as she realizes that nothing in her world is really what she thought it was.  Her best friend betrays her when Estrella falls for the boy she had planned to marry.  She learns many secrets about her family and what they have had to do in order to ensure their secret stay hidden.  Finally, she learns that she has not even known her real name until now.

Incantation shows students that Jewish persecution did not just happen in Nazi Germany.  Jews have been persecuted for years for their beliefs and this story sheds some insight onto what it is like to have everything taken from you because of the faith you believe in.   While this story has many sad moments, it is also comforting that through it all Estrella has hope that somewhere there is a place where she could live as she is free from persecution.

 


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